The Santa Clara City Council has called a special meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24 for “Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release.” As there are only two employees reporting to the City Council, and one of those positions — City Attorney — is vacant, the process of elimination leaves the City Manager Deanna Santana.
Since she was hired in 2017, Santana has attracted criticism over her now $785,000 compensation package — the highest for any city manager in California. The temperature increased when she threatened to take the City to court if the Council denied her a raise. She called it “a new low” from the Council and said she was entitled to the raise because her raises are tied to bargaining Unit 9.
Santana has left previous jobs under a cloud.
In Oakland, she tried to alter and suppress parts of an independent police auditor’s report after Oakland’s disastrous attempt to clear an Occupy Oakland camp. Santana was also at the center of a 2015 whistleblower lawsuit that cost Oakland $613,000.
She was also the focus of labor contention in Oakland; accused of blocking police reform efforts; and actively involved herself in city council redistricting, going so far as to hire a consultant for the effort without informing council members.*
During her tenure as City Manager in Sunnyvale, the city came the closest it ever had to a public employee strike, and several Sunnyvale employees have told The Weekly that Santana played a central role. About six months later, she left Sunnyvale for Santa Clara, taking much of Sunnyvale’s executive staff with her — all of whom got hefty raises to commute a few miles across the city border.
Along the way, Santana has been dogged by suspicions of cronyism. She hired three consultants with questionable records that she worked with in previous jobs.
The first was a former San José colleague, Mark Danaj, who, after being let go by Manhattan Beach found a temporary berth in Santa Clara just in time to avoid losing his CalPERS classic pension.
Another was Dan Fenton, who was singled out in two grand jury reports about San José’s destination management agency for malfeasance and losing millions. Fenton’s company was hired to analyze and restructure Santa Clara’s Destination Management Organization (DMO). They ultimately delivered on the contract, but only after appearing to have been paid for the same work several times.
Subsequently, the DMO manager recommended by Fenton was investigated by Santa Clara police, according to police records. He wasn’t charged with anything but soon left town.
Denise Callahan was another consultant with a prior connection to the City Manager. She worked with Santana in San José after a critical review by an independent review board alleged that the police department mishandled complaints. Callahan arrived at more police department-friendly findings by narrowing definitions.
Santana hired Callahan to audit the Santa Clara Convention Center. Among Callahan’s allegations was that the Convention Center was losing revenue because of improper discounts. The Weekly requested specific examples of these improper discounts, but Callahan never produced any.
Santana also hired Alameda County Coliseum Authority Director Scott McKibben as Levi’s Stadium Executive Director. McKibben quit before he started — and before he was indicted for attempted graft and (last year) took a plea bargain.
*Santana was highly critical of the East Bay Express’ reporting of this, writing a long letter to the editor about her “deep concern about the biased, inaccurate, and misleading reporting;” prompting a reply from the journalist that her job was “to serve the public” and his was “documenting your record in that regard.”